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Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

Adam Rifkin has a serious fascination with filth.

THE DARK BACKWARD remains one of the most gag-inducing movies I've ever witnessed in a theater. Bill Paxton in particular seemed to roll around in the squalor of the film, delighted by it all. That film was a surreal cartoon, though, nothing like the real world.

NIGHT AT THE GOLDEN EAGLE, though, is something else entirely. It's an unflinching look at a Los Angeles that most people don't realize even exists. It is grimy, so dirty around the edges that you start to itch as you watch it, but it's not exaggerated or hyperreal. If anything, the film is so naked, so close to the truth, that it becomes difficult to watch in several places.

In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd say Adam Rifkin has made a great movie.

It's small. Make no mistake about it. This is a wee little independent film. I'd be stunned if this cost over $2 million, and I bet it's a lot closer to $1 million. Most of the faces you see are unknowns, even though Natasha Lyonne, Vinnie Jones, Anne Magnuson, and even James Caan all appear in the movie. It doesn't look cheap at all thanks to the expert, almost experimental cinematography of Francesco Varese, but that's a plus in this case. Rifkin finds the poetry amidst the heaps of garbage that seem to crowd into his frame at every opportunity. He finds grace among the graceless, and manages to paint a searing portrait of one person's last desperate grasp at redemption even as another person takes a first step away from innocence and into the cold, cruel world. The film hits hard, and it never pulls a punch.

There are two basic storylines at work in the film. One involves two old friends, Mick (Vinny Argiro) and Tommy (Donnie Montemarano). One of them is just out of prison, and the other is looking to finally start a life away from crime. The actors themselves come from very different backgrounds. Argiro has been around, showing up in various cops and robbers roles over the years. Montemarano has never been in a movie before this. Here, though, their relationship is the spine of the film, and the two of them are front and center, and they both deliver, turning in wry performances, every line thick with unspoken regret. These are old men who seem to finally be realizing that their lives have slipped away, and that they are not going to be getting any more second chances.

The other storyline deals with the efforts of Rodan (Vinnie Jones) to convert Loriann (Nicole Jacobs) from a timid runaway to a money-earning prostitute, with a little help from Sally (Ann Magnuson), one of Rodan's most experienced girls. We've seen similar material in other films, but what makes this so electric, so demanding of your attention, is the horrible, unflinching clarity with which Rifkin details the process. Loriann is impossibly young, like a soap commercial on distractingly long, coltish legs that meet in a pair of tight denim cutoffs. She's adorable in that "kid-sister-on-the-verge-of-womanhood" sort of way, with her braces and her shy smile. When Rodan meets her, she's by herself, upset, an obvious runaway and an easy mark. He ingratiates himself, and Jones is loathesome in the role. His oily charm is overwhelming, oppressive, and he preaches love out of one side of his mouth and fear out of the other. He leaves Loriann with Sally, and it's up to Sally to prepare the girl for what lies ahead. She does so by putting her in a closet and letting her watch as Sally takes care of a customer in the first of several unforgettable sequences in this storyline. This is the first screen appearance by Nicole Jacobs, but she's a natural, and her fear and her bravado and her gradual swing from open and honest to closed and guarded is played with a restraint that escapes many veteran performers. Magnuson, a long-time fave of mine, does excellent work here, and she and Jacobs seem to forge a very real, very believable bond in their time together. When Loriann is finally put to the test and told to take a customer of her own, the tension is almost too much to take. Rifkin puts us so far inside the skin of this girl that it feels like we're the ones being violated, and it seems to be unbearable.

It's important that Rifkin give these girls a human heart that we cannot ignore, since another prostitute ends up dead, a prop of sorts through much of the movie, and the way the two storylines impact one another and echo off of each other serves to drive home the point that the world at large may have written off these girls as trash, disposable, but we shouldn't. Actually, it's not just the girls that are invisible here. It's everyone at the Golden Eagle Hotel. I have a soft spot for the work by Fayard Nicholas, one of the famous Nicholas Brothers, a dancing team that you must see to believe. Fayard has a moment here where he taps that old glory, if only for a fleeting second, that is magic. It's all because of the way Rifkin lets us watch that amazing face and lets it tell the whole story.

Landmark Theaters is working with Rifkin to distribute the film themselves, another example of how Landmark is trying to step outside the traditional and easy definitions of an "exhibitor" in these days of the MegaMultiplex. As the film opens around the country, I'll make sure to keep you posted on dates. It's well worth you seeking out this small gem. It snuck up on me and then stuck with me in the week or so since I've seen it, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by what you find if you decide to spend a NIGHT AT THE GOLDEN EAGLE.

And you'll absolutely want to shower afterwards.

Hmmm... guess maybe it is a great little movie after all. Helluva job, Adam.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • March 6, 2002, 5:49 a.m. CST

    sounds interesting


  • March 6, 2002, 6:07 a.m. CST

    I alwasy thought of Adam Riffkin as the better Tim Burton..

    by Blake Falls

    but reading that my hopes are high we have a next Takashi Miike on our hands. Please keep us informed where to catch it. Sure will be first in line.

  • March 6, 2002, 8:51 a.m. CST

    lemme guess--they're prostitutes with hearts of gold?

    by Lance Rock

  • March 6, 2002, 9:26 a.m. CST

    A genuine good performance from vinnie jones?

    by Jon L. Ander

    worth checking out perhaps.

  • March 6, 2002, 10:07 a.m. CST

    No hookers with hearts of gold here...

    by Smilin'Jack Ruby

    I caught this pic, too. This movie avoids cliches like that in a big way. I really dig this flick and Mori's right, it's a little picture about people as human garbage and really living at the bottom rung of the food chain. The only people who aren't monsters in the film are ones that wear uniforms to keep the monsters in line while they're alive or to take them to the morgue when they're dead. It's a remarkable contrast the folks at the Golden Eagle and the folks in uniform. And, of course, Vinnie Jones. Yeah, he's a monster, but he certainly doesn't look like one and that's why he rules the territory. A very good, very multi-layered film.

  • March 6, 2002, 10:15 a.m. CST

    Vinnie Jones in good film? Can't be as good as Gone in 60 s

    by prince kamal

    JOKE, all right?

  • March 6, 2002, 12:25 p.m. CST

    adam rafkin?

    by donaldsutherland

    why couldn't fox have the balls to keep 'Action' on the air and let it find an audience. someone agree with me that it was a pretty dead-on look at the ridiculous industry. gonna go get me a D-Girl at La Colonial tonight. ever had a d-girl moriarty? adam rafkin forever.

  • March 6, 2002, 1:29 p.m. CST

    Had the pleasure to briefly meet the Nicholas Bros. once

    by otis von zipper

    A few years back I was working at a tribute to legends of tap dancing. Donald O'Connor and the Nicholas Bros. were the big names. All really nice guys, and Harold Nichols recently passed away, so it was especially sweet to have seen them before that happened. Check out the movie Stormy Weather for their unbelievable dancing acrobatics.

  • March 6, 2002, 2:32 p.m. CST

    Rifkin Deserves Some Attention

    by Anton_Sirius

    His films, whether good or not so good, are always at least interesting. And The Chase is one of my favorite guilty pleasure films, simply because so few people get it. And it came out before OJ, too, which makes it witty AND prescient, so there.

  • March 6, 2002, 3:08 p.m. CST

    Yikes, this sounds f'n good.

    by rabid_republican

    When I first heard about this flick I wasn't certain wheather to be interested or repulsed. Right now, I'm still stewing. There are parts of films where women are violated or exploited in which I still squirm (the limo scene in Boogie Nights is one of these in particular *shudder*). If I have the opportunity, suppose I'll strap on the "Clockwork Orange" helmet and force myself to watch this...and no doubt enjoy the film.

  • March 7, 2002, 1:27 a.m. CST


    by stopmoGR

    I have only seen a part of this film but with todays headlines this is not what the public wants or needs. When a poor innocent little girl(Danielle Van Dam) being murdered by a sick, dememted person(David Westerfield). The old man in this film kills a young girl prostitute and stuffs her under a bed. He also kills his best friend and the asshole gets away with it in the end. This is not the kind of images we need to have. It only reminds me of the horrible reality.

  • March 7, 2002, 4:22 a.m. CST


    by Jackass

    ...for the very reasons that numbnuts up there doesn't want you to. The fact that you are telling me what both I and society "doesn't need to see" is exactly why I am now going to go see it, if and when it shows up at my local AMC.

  • March 7, 2002, 4:47 a.m. CST

    Now that you've got that EP II review out of the way, Mori..

    by Cash Bailey

    ...where the hell is that KILL BILL script review!?!!

  • March 11, 2002, 1:35 a.m. CST

    Directors' Guild Awards

    by t-squared

    Since those at AICN won't bring this up since Peter Jackson didn't win, I'd like to mention that Ron Howard won the Director's Guild Award for excellence in direction. That's right, (I'm sure all you fanboys know it too) Peter Jackson didn't win. This should be a good indication to all film lovers who read this site that LotR was indeed a solid film, but not the end all that Moriarty and Harry have made it out to be. "A Beautiful Mind" wasn't better in my opinion, just done by a director with a lot of excellent work under his belt. Look for Mr. Jackson to win in the future for either of the next two installments of the trilogy.

  • March 13, 2002, 3:03 p.m. CST

    How original!

    by SpanishPantlones

    How original to make a small, cheap ass indie flick about young, confused people involved in crime and the sleazy underworld of LA or Vegas,NY whatever,living on the edge...zzzzzz. I'm so tired of these "SKUZZ" genre films. "U-turn" was the final straw for me.People who make shitty, unredeemable films like U-turn shouldn't take themselves so damn seriously...